National Federation of Information Commissions
in India

Aided education institutions come under RTI

Chennai : In a significant order with far-reaching consequences, the Madras High Court has brought aided private educational institutions under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The case pertains to the Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai and the court held that it was indeed a ‘public authority’ as defined in the RTI Act and hence could not deny information with regard to its functioning to those who seek it.

Given that Tamil Nadu has a number of such aided private institutions whose functioning has time and again been questioned by educationists, the order clearly provides an opportunity to usher in greater transparency.

Thiagarajar College of Engineering receives aid from the State government for payment of salary to teaching and non-teaching staff.

In 2009 one T K Ravindranath made an application under the RTI Act seeking information on the fee structure of certain courses. In reply the college registrar maintained that the institution was not a ‘public authority’ and hence did not fall under the purview of the RTI Act. An appeal was preferred by Ravindranath with the Tamil Nadu Information Commission, which directed the college to provide the information.

Subsequently, the college filed the current writ petition challenging the order. Senior counsel G Masilamani, appearing for the college, argued that the commission had pre-determined the status of the college on the basis of the letter head which declared it to be a government-aided college without giving sufficient chance for the college to make its case.

He said that college was not a government body or an instrument of the State, which alone can be brought under the purview of the Act and though the college received 37 per cent of the total expenditure as aid from the government, it could not be deemed as substantial funding.

Counsel for the respondents contended that the college was indeed substantially funded by the government. Once aid is received from the government, that alone is sufficient to hold that it is a public authority, the counsel submitted.

Passing orders, Justice S Manikumar observed that imparting education was not an independent activity. It is an activity supplementing the principal work carried out by the State through the educational institutions established by it.

The judge held that any interested person could seek information on how grant-in-aid was spent. “If the college receives any concession from the government or receives a grant or sanction for disbursement of fee concession to any under-privileged person and if the same is not fully paid or is partly paid, then the aggrieved student or any person, with a pro bono interest can seek information,” Justice Manikumar said.

As such, the judge held that the college could be brought under the ambit of the RTI Act and dismissed the petition.
Last Updated on Monday, 26 August 2013 13:48  

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